Dallas — Cry Havoc Theater Company closes its sixth season with Endlings, an audio play conceived and developed by the company’s teens about climate change. Under the direction of Mara Richards Bim and her team Shelby-Allison Hibbs (dramaturg), Lisa Cotie (acting coach) and Brian McDonald (sound designer and engineer), 13 teens developed a documentary-style verbatim piece (rooted in pre-existing materials) that grapples with one provocative question: how can we talk about climate change and environmental concerns in terms of grief?
Their task became more layered as the nation was slammed with a pandemic. They began their work in February 2020 before Americans knew what was coming, or rather what was already here, and concluded in May 2020. The cast conducted research, reading scientific articles through which they identified specialists working in the field of environmental conservation and climate. After identifying 13 specialists, each representing different regions of the country, the team arranged interviews with those specialists who graciously contributed their time to the project. Their fields and residential locations are important to the play.
The team’s original plan was for travel to these areas, starting with Seattle, to not only speak with the specialists but to also see the regional environs.
Reflecting the specialists’ interview contributions are: Leonela Arguello (Amelia Marchand, tribal member of the Colville Reservation in Eastern Washington), Arden Carethers (Mary Annaise Hegler, climate essayist and activist). The cast includes Lillie Davidson as a student; Rodrigo Fuentes as a student and as Bill Holston (the Executive Director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas); Zonika Gamble-Davis (student), Zoe Gameros (Dr. Jennifer W. Atkinson, professor of environmental humanities), Susana Garcia (Rania Bertrice, climate justice political strategist) and Angie Hogue (Dr. Kathryn Wilkinson, author and climate change activist); Will McDonald doubles as Ben Sandifer (Dallas, Texas environmental advocate); Mark Mandica as an environmental conservationist; Ava McKay is the voice of the play’s director, Richards-Bim. Rounding out the list of actors and specialists is Larsen Nichols (Renee Lertzman, environmental psychologist), Sadie Redmond (Dr. Meade Crosby, climate change biologist), Landon Robinson (Dr. Daniel R. Wildcat, scholar and a Yuchi member of the Muskogee Nation of Oklahoma) and Arrie Tucker, eco psychologist in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Sound in an audio play about the environment hurtles to the front in importance. The three-dimensional sound is impressive as it successfully creates an immersive cinematic feel. It is the sound that envelops the listener in a welcoming way.
The title was chosen because it fit what the students argue is at the core of concern about climate change. When a species disappears except for one specimen, the one remaining is an endling. Central to the cast’s argument is that we should view climate change through grieving of lives lost, inclusive of all life forms, not just humans. As one line expresses, “A whole species leaving means something. How important is it to take care of the last one?”
Ben Sandifer recalled a phrase from Mary Oliver’s poem, Moccasin Flowers, “I have loved best how the flowers rise and open, how the pink lungs of their bodies enter the fire of the world …” Through him we learn more about the Trinity River through its native grasses and the trees within the 6,600 acres of Trinity Forest. It was enlightening to learn that the Trinity Forest is one of the largest urban hardwood bottom land forests in the country, home of the Texas buckeye trees. We also learn unfortunately that this is also the least visited park in the city of Dallas, particularly sad because it is the second largest park in the city.
While the play is not about COVID-19, the pandemic surfaced during their work and its effects weighed on the teens. They were already very concerned about the environment and climate. The pandemic worries added a layer of concern. They talk about interruptions to their sleep patterns and about their experiences with anxiety and panic attacks. The quarantine is registering with them through what is lost such as a simple thing like bike riding. One actor describes excitement over perhaps going to the grocery store while another one is stuck at home, seeing everything as busy work. They share a heightened interest in TikTok. All of this causes them to realize they must figure out how to create a play during a pandemic. This is the same problem facing theaters across the country.
All of their experiences through the interviews and with the pandemic informed their ideas for structuring the play about the stages of grief because the audience is also grieving. They considered structuring it through the seasons as stages of grief. Part of the conversation was also about the heroes’ journey as explained by Joseph Campbell, asking themselves who would be the hero in their play.
One of the questions raised through the play is whether we each have unalienable responsibility to those with whom we share the planet.
They include a part of the environmental conversation often ignored, that of the intersection of policy and politics with conservation, environmental justice. The environmental injustices predominantly affect minority communities, such as with the struggle of the Standing Rock community against the encroachment of the Dallas founded pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, whose plans endangered the tribe’s water supply.
Perhaps the most poignant reflection voiced by the cast was “You have to grieve the world you thought you were going to have.” For a group that thinks that a critical problem with the conversation about climate change is the storytelling, they have devised a staggering way of having that conversation with an audience. Hearing that view which can only be voiced through the youth, is a necessary experience.
Each time we think the Cry Havoc team has risen to new heights of intellectualism and creativity, they elevate their work even more. This is one of their best projects to date.